Stalbridge: The home of the Friendly Society

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Stalbridge club walking day
Stalbridge Club Walking Day, when a brass band led a procession through the town

By Hilary Townsend

In 1945, when the first General Election after the last war was being canvassed, students from Oxford University arrived in a van with a loudspeaker. They parked in Stalbridge High Street and explained the advantages of the proposed Welfare State.

It was raining hard so a lady prudently opened her window and called: “What will happen now to the Friendly Societies?” The students had no idea. They did not know that Stalbridge had a long and vital tradition of supporting Friendly Societies.

On 4 September the History Society organised a talk about Stalbridge’s Friendly Societies given by Mr Philip Hoyland from Burnham on Sea, who had researched the topic for many years. Before the Welfare State sickness and unemployment were a severe hardship to working people so by paying a small subscription regularly to Friendly Societies they could get basic payments when needed.

On the annual Club Walking Day all the local Friendly Societies celebrated. A brass band led a procession through the town, everyone seemed to be in their best clothes and every head was covered by a large hat or a cap. The stewards of the Friendly Society carried individual poles topped with the Society’s emblem – a highly polished flame-like brass spearhead – and there was a celebratory meal at the Swan.

In the early 19th century eleven of these pole heads had been mounted on a semi-circular wooden holder resembling a large shining Sunburst. The speaker Mr Hoyland had brought the Sunburst with him. He was now dispersing his large collection of Friendly Society memorabilia and offered to sell the Stalbridge Sunburst to the History Society. Much thought is now being given to fundraising to buy it and return it to its home town.

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